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UNIT 2: What a Brain Needs


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Themes & Ideas

Brain Science

Mental Wellness


What Students Will Uncover

Students will explore the adolescent brain, its development and how technology can play a role in it. They will also delve into what an adolescent brain requires to be healthy.

Lesson Overview

This guide addresses the developing brains of teens. It works well for educators to run...

  1. As a follow up to the Screening and Class Discussion Lesson Plan

  2. Independently, if you already know this is a subject you want to explore in particular.

We recommend that students watch the film prior to (or as part of) this lesson, but relevant clips are embedded throughout the guide if students do not have time to watch the whole film, or if they need a refresher on its content.

The lesson is organized around activities that can be completed during a class period. Educators are encouraged to review the lesson activities beforehand to assess suitability for class timing and teaching style. Educators can select and arrange the activities in a way that suits them, which can include choosing to run activities over multiple periods or setting activities as homework assignments.

Lesson Objectives

  • Consider how screens might be impacting their mental health 
  • Be able to support friends who are going through difficult times
  • Learn strategies for protecting sleep
  • Understand the mechanics of the developing brain
  • Become aware of the stigma surrounding mental health

Lesson Materials


Insomnia —The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.

Melatonin — A natural hormone produced by our brains to regulate our sleep-wake cycles.

Amygdala —The part of the brain that processes emotions and controls our fear response.


This section is intended for the educator, providing them with information about the film, its themes and topics, as well as tips for how to lead students in an impactful discussion.

About The Film

The Film in Context


Lesson Introduction

Opening Discussion

  • Ask students to recall the film they recently watched (Screenagers Next Chapter).
  • Prompt student recall by asking some general questions to ensure they remember.
Is there any data on the teen brain you remember seeing in the film? 
Do you remember learning anything about how technology can impact the teen brain?
  • Explain that in today's lesson, you will be taking a closer look at one of the main themes of the film: the science behind teenage brain development and completing a number of activities together.

Before The Movie

Play The Film

Play Film Not available in preview

Lesson Activities

Activity 1

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Looking at the Teen Brain (25 mins)

Students work collaboratively.

  1. Group class into two equal-sized groups.
  2. Arrange them in two circles: one inner and one outer so that the students are facing each other one to one. 
  3. Ask your students to discuss the following discussion prompts with their partners. Allot a few minutes to each prompt and then have the outer circle move one position to the right for the next prompt.
Do you think teens and adults have different emotional reactions? If so, explain in what ways and why you believe this.
Give some examples of things that are crucial to brain development. 
How much do you feel like you understand the impact of sleep? 

Ask your students to share some highlights from their conversations.

Key Learning: Students will surface their existing knowledge and become aware of any assumptions and misconceptions.

More topics, discussion questions and movie clips relating to "Looking at the Teen Brain": 

The adolescent brain

In the clip on the right, psychology professor and researcher Adriana Galvan, PhD, explains how the teenage brain reacts to emotions differently than the adult brain does.

Along with having a highly emotionally reactive brain, teenagers are not often taught how to identify or cope with their emotions. Very few schools teach their students these skills, but in the film, Delaney visits a few of them. 

The schools Delaney visits encourage kids to practice identifying their emotions and provide students with different strategies for cooling down before acting. One teacher explains that identifying emotions in a specific and complex way is no easy task and it’s something that everyone struggles with, not just teens. He explains how he uses some of the strategies he teaches his students to identify and act on the emotions he faces in his own life. 

Does your school teach any units on mental health? If so, have you found them helpful? 
Has anyone ever tried to teach you how to deal with your emotions? Have you observed how your parents deal with theirs?

Activity 2

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Stress Deep Dive (20 mins)

Students work collaboratively.

  1. The teacher will stand at the board and make two columns, one for positive stress and one for negative stress. 
  2. Students will give examples of stress that feels helpful and stress that feels more harmful. Students should explain their reasoning.

Reflect as a class on some of the answers on the board.

Key Learning: Students reconsider a topic that they might have felt was exclusively negative and see how it has the capacity to benefit them. They engage in a conversation with other students who might have different ideas from their own.

More topics, discussion questions and movie clips relating to "Stress Deep Dive": 

Along with heightened emotional reactivity, clinical professor of psychiatry and researcher, Dan Siegel, MD, explains how the adolescent brain is also reaching a new stage of learning and retaining information. Hobbies or skills that a teenager doesn’t practice much anymore are more easily lost at this stage of brain development. 

When screen time begins to encroach on teens' hobbies, teens who forsake the activities they used to engage in have a greater risk of losing their abilities.

Can you think of any hobbies that you love and don’t want to lose as you grow older? What steps could you take to hang onto these hobbies / skills?

Our brain is a muscle

Self-esteem and curating a positive self-image is closely tied to challenging oneself, learning how to fail, keep trying and eventually succeed. However, challenging oneself can cause anxiety and stress in many adolescents, which makes taking steps into the unknown that much harder.

In this clip, Ronald Dahl, MD, the Chief Science Officer at the Center for the Developing Adolescent, explains why stress can be healthy.

While uncomfortable, challenge is crucial in getting to know ourselves, getting better at things and developing self-esteem. We hear from a school counselor on this topic in the clip below.

Have you ever experienced stress that has felt helpful or productive? 

Adolescence is a great time to learn resilience through challenges and working through discomfort. The way a teen deals with a stressful situation gives them a clearer self-image and life skills for how to manage difficult emotions. Without facing and getting through stressful challenges and interactions, there is no interpersonal growth at all. 

Can you think of any challenges in your own life that ultimately helped you grow? 

Activity 3

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Sleep Strategy (15 mins) 

Tell the students to write out what they'd like their nighttime routine to look like. It could be their current one if they're content with it. If they aren’t satisfied with the amount of sleep they're getting right now, they should make a new "sleep strategy." 

Consider the following: 

What is the minimum amount of hours you’d like to get each night? Maximum?
What time would you like to be in bed by?
Are screens allowed in your bedroom?
What helps you fall asleep? Reading? Counting sheep?

Key Learning: Students consider their current habits and set new goals for themselves.

More topics, discussion questions and movie clips relating to "Sleep Strategy": 

How much sleep are teens really getting? 

Lack of sleep can make it really hard to deal with the already difficult emotions that come with growing up and becoming a teen. With brains that are much more emotionally reactive than adult brains, not getting enough sleep can aggravate stress and mental health concerns to which teenagers are already more susceptible. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended that children aged six to 12 years should regularly sleep nine to 12 hours a night and teenagers aged 13–18 years should sleep eight to 10 hours a night. However, teens report getting much less sleep than advised, with only one out of five teens getting just the minimum amount of sleep recommended. 

How does being tired impact how you express your emotions? 

A study of adolescents seeking treatment for anxiety found that 38.1% of them were also suffering from insomnia. So, issues with sleep can create further mental health complications, but mental health complications also have the ability to create issues with sleep. 

Leslie Walker-Harding, MD, the chair of the Pediatrics Department at Seattle Children's Hospital, explains how sleep-deprived teens can take on a lot of the same symptoms as clinically anxious or depressed teens.

Screen time and sleep

Delaney explains in the clip to the right that 36% of teens wake up and check their device in the middle of the night.

Screens produce blue light, which has the ability to decrease the brain’s production of melatonin. This is why when people scroll before bedtime, it can take them longer to fall asleep at night. 

Beyond blue light exposure, screen-time before bed can also cut into the time teens actually spend sleeping. Social media and video games are energizing and attention-capturing and can cut into hours teens should be spending sleeping. 

Activity 4

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Activity 5

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Lesson Conclusion

Closing Research (45 mins / homework assignment) 

Students work collaboratively.

  1. The class splits up into small groups. 
  2. Each group will pick one of the following topics to conduct further research on: Adolescents and Sleep, Adolescent Brain and Emotion Processing, Positive Stress or Negative Stress. They can collect information from the film, from their own research or from both.
  3. The groups should decide how they want to present their research to the rest of their class, whether through a poster, digital slides, a video, etc.
  4. This assignment can be a take-home assignment or something done in class.

Further Reading

For Educators

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For Students


CASEL® SEL Competencies

Our Curriculum & Lesson Plans are independently aligned by the Screenagers Team to the CASEL® SEL Competencies Framework.

  • Self-management: Self-discipline.
    Personal and collective goals.
  • Self-awareness: Identifying one's emotions.
    Growth mindset.
  • Relationship Skills: Communicating effectively.

AASL Standards Framework for Learners

Our Curriculum & Lesson Plans are also informed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards Framework for Learners. For additional information and resources, including a downloadable format for the Learners Standards Framework, for AASL’s National Standards visit


  • C. SHARE — Engaging in informed conversation and active debate.


  • B. CREATE — Generating products that illustrate learning.


  • A. THINK — Identifying possible sources of information.
    Making critical choices about information sources to use.
  • B. CREATE — Seeking a variety of sources.


  • A. THINK — Developing new understandings through engagement in a learning group.


  • C. SHARE — Disseminating new knowledge through means appropriate for the intended audience.
Related Movie
Screenagers Next Chapter (Classroom Version, 50 mins)

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